I'm an EcoTraveler. What the heck in an Eco Traveler?.....

Updated: Feb 2

My name is Madison Pilling and I am a professional EcoTraveler! My friends call me Mad, Mads, Madie, Madison, 12, Hey You! and everything else in between. Now, what the heck is an EcoTraveler? I did not know myself until I went to write this blog. I fall into many categories, Social Media has a hard time sending me those targeted ads because I chase life and all the experiences it has to offer.

street art; woman; travel; summer; rainbow
Awesome Photo spot in Old Town Yellowknife, NWT, Canada. Managed to even catch a Rainbow! Photo by Chad Bullock.

I have attempted to break down why I classify myself as a Professional EcoTraveler with 25 years of experience! It all starts the day I was born, cheesy I know.

My dad was not spending Christmas in a hotel room with a nearly three year old, newborn baby and wife that just gave birth. Therefore, I took my first flight of an hour and twenty minutes home to my village, Fort Simpson, at just a few days old. (Yes, you read that right. I live in a legal village of 1, 200 residents). The travel never ended, going across the north and then across Canada at a young age for sporting events, family travel and other free programs/ organizations.

At the ripe age of 8 my first International trip was down to Las Vegas with my family! It seems like a strange family vacation, even now, but it was a blast! We stayed at the "Circus, Circus" hotel which to my young astonishment, has a theme park inside the hotel! We traveled down on December 18th which meant I would wake up 9 in a new country, SO COOL!!! My girly childish dreams came true when I woke and my mom had gone shopping (of course) and got me a necklace with Madison spelled out, complete with my blue birthstone in the a. My brother's boyhood dreams came true too when they also gave me books and a Gameboy Advance. I was not interested in reading or video games but my brother was and my parents were believers in a holistic education in school and in life.

The city is full of magic, lights and mystery. The highlights that still sit with me to this day were: the Miragio water show, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, a Build a Bear, nearly getting heelys (story for another time), Magic Shows, Pirates, and finally Slot Machines! This trip was very exciting for me since I had to apply for my first Passport! My dad had a passport already but the rest of us were waiting to receive ours. Mine did not come in time to get my first stamp and this was the early 2000s so a passport was not required for Canadians to travel to the US. There will be a full blog and trip diary from the trip in the future but back to becoming a full-time EcoTraveler!



My second International trip was February 2007? When I was in the fifth grade, we had a girl named Angela who had immigrated to Canada, and we quickly became friends while we learned how to fiddle together. After she had learned English and our customs in just two years, her family invited me to go back to China with to collect their two year-old daughter and bring her to Canada too.

We spent a month living with her family and in hotels starting in Shanghai at her grandparents, where Angela and her mom had grown up. I ended my trip in Hong Kong, where Angela’s dad and his family were from. The culture of China was amazing and it was so different across the provinces that we travelled to. Angela’s Aunt, Uncle and cousin were all travelling with us from another province and there were complications with their Visa. It made me thankful for the freedom we have to travel within our country and around the world. Travelling around China was my first immersive experience in a culture rich with:

Food; I never wanted to be a picky eater as a kid but I was. My diet mainly consisted of meat and potatoes because my parents both grew up on farms. China was my culinary awakening! I learned how to use chopsticks to eat soup, once you have unlocked that achievement, you have China handled. If only it was that simple; I really did learn so much about food when I went to China and I was determined to be able to try any food at least once in my life. This was the day I decided to start building my spice tolerance; to say it has been a hard fought 13 years is an understatement. It is still a skill I am working on all the time but I can finally say Sriracha is a good spice level and Franks is not spicy at all!

Language; My first time in a place where everyone around me was speaking a language I did not understand. I was having my first experience not being understood since learning to speak as a child. I quickly picked up Ni Hao (Hello) and Ni Hao Ma (How are you) but that was the extent of my knowledge. After the trip I forced Angela to teach me how to write and say the numbers from one to ten. As I traveled around China I also learned about dialects and how language is tied in with culture. Angela could speak Mandarin, Shang Hai Mandarin (Shanganise) and English when she was just 12 years old and going on this trip. She was expected to learn Cantonese by the time she was 13 and she assured me that it was the hardest language she had yet to learn. I was baffled by her brains ability. I had been trying to speak French my whole life and could still only badly pronounce a few hundred words and could write none of them. Angela gave me my first real life and best lesson in "The value of speaking the same language." It is a lesson I relearn every single day.

Customs; China is full. That sounds silly and very obvious sounding when I reread it. What I mean is that I was overwhelmed and mesmerized by the amount of: people, cars, bikes, buildings, stores, fast food chains, shopping centres, chip flavours, types of chips, animals, places, activities, sights, choices, things to do...... Before the trip, Angela's mom, Victoria told me we would be going to "The Buffet of One Thousand Choices" which in my Village of Fort Simpson mind was a really big buffet with one thousand combinations with all the sauces. You know, a phrase they use to get the tourists to go there, a marketing bit. Boy was I wrong, there were more choices than my little brain could take in. I am not even sure what I ate that day because I was staring at the most amount of food I had ever seen. After a few hours I had calmed down and they told me that they were wrong, there were not 1000 choices on the menu that night. I was relieved honestly. They then informed me that there were 1110 choices that day because the had a chocolate fountain with over 50 things to dip and a few other extras here and there. We went on to sing Karaoke with Angela's uncles over a few kegs of beer for 6 hours until 3am, so China was my kind of place!

Religion; Buddhist and Taoist temples are beautiful!!! No offence to the other religions on this one, every religion has build stunning mausoleums to their gods. The temples in China are often open to the air and surrounded by peaceful gardens filled with flowers and rocks. They are colourful with red and gold colour; made all in stone and shingles. Visitors light in-scents and leave them as offerings to the gods, they are very warm and inviting spiritual places. I felt very at home, much like the feeling of walking into a Teepee at home with a fire lit inside. From the outside they are grand structures; inside they are just as grand but filled with light, warmth, and peace. China opened my eyes to how all religions are similar in their fundamental principles.

Traditions; Food and family, tradition always shows its head best at family gathering over the big meal. Tell me I am wrong. Every family can keep it together over the holidays and pretend they are all picture perfect, until the food starts flowing. Sharing a meal in Edmonton with Angela's extended family was my first glimpse into Chinese tradition. This family had asked me to travel with them to their home country to bring their daughter across the world to live in mine. Sitting down with the family over Hot Pot, a shared pot of broth is placed in the middle of the table and everyone throws their raw meat and veggies in and pulls them out when they are done, it is a war to get your food out and in your mouth before someone else eats it cause it was cooked an no one claimed it. The meal ends when everyone shares in a glass of the broth, rich with all the flavours of everyone's different meals. As everyone enjoys a glass of the broth, conversation begins. I sat around a fifteen person family that night and was included as one of them. I was one of their family for the rest of the trip, now "Victoria's Canadian daughter" I was right along with Angela for the whole trip as she got Red Envelopes with cash, so did I. In China for New Years, all relatives must give the kids in the family money concealed in a red envelope. At the first few places, I did not get an envelope until after Victoria inspected the money we had received from her family. After the first few people did not giver her Canadian Daughter money for luck in the new year, the family quickly had my red envelope ready along with Angela and Tiffany's envelopes on arrival. Again, China was proving to be my kind of place.


Back to the EcoTraveler thing!

Where does the Eco part or the EcoTraveler come from? Well, from my love of nature of course! #neature Growing up in a village that has a primarily Indigenous population, I was surrounded by Dene Elders, teachers, culture, language, religion and laws growing up. The Dene are connected to the land and mother earth and I was lucky enough to learn this connection. When you take the time to see the world beyond yourself and picture yourself as you are: a single piece in the 7.9 billion piece human puzzle that fits into the entire universe, you get a better perspective. What really can the impact of a single person be? With this question in mind I built my life on the goal of making one other person’s life better. If in my life, if I can make one other person happier, healthier and more free in their life then I have made one small positive impact on the world. If I could accomplish this simple task, my life would be a success. With that belief, I have already accomplished all I need to in my life.

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Day 2 of a 10 Day paddling trip down the South Nahanni River in the Nahanni National Park in August 2019. This was our first look at the First Range of the Nahanni Range. Paddled with Brian in the bow, accompanied by my parents in their little red canoe.

Daily I strive to be my authentic self and be true to the happiness and light that is inside me. This is a daily practice because I can allow the negative thoughts to flood in and overwhelm me. Daily I practice my best intentions for Mother Earth and everything she provides me. Everyday I drink water from her rivers, I breathe clean air that is cleaned by her trees, I eat food grown from her luscious soil, I use heat to cook my food, heat my water and warm my home. Everything we need to sustain life comes from the earth, so it is my mission to preserve her for as long as possible. This is why I live and travel with a Zero Waste goal in mind. I am far from perfect, but everyday I strive to love the environment around me and not fill it with waste. The easiest changes I made were: lowering my food waste, eating and shopping as local as possible, reducing single-use plastic and even buying back my carbon!

Green Sand Beach in Hawaii , one one four in the world. Check out my trip there to see how to get there. Photo by Madie on my GoPro

I will leave a physical and emotional impact on the land, people and places that I travel and it is up to me what that impact is. I cannot control how the impact is received, but it is my responsibility to put care and intention in my words and actions because they will be interpreted by everyone around me.

There is a communications theory, Encoding/ Decoding by Stuart Hall, covered in his book Culture, Media, Language (1980). His theory emerged with the development of New Media and the emergence of Mass Communication. The short version of the theory is that every message is encoded by the sender and is influenced by their framework of knowledge, relations of production and technical infrastructure. The message is then sent over a channel, for example radio waves, television or social media, and the way they are sent changes the message as well. The message is then decoded by the receiver who has their own framework of knowledge, relations of production and technical infrastructure. Every person has biases that affect how we send information and how we receive information.

Our knowledge comes from our experiences, the places we travel and the people we meet. Therefore, I am continuously searching for new knowledge and ways of thinking, especially those that I do not understand and agree with. Everything in my life that I used to hate and fear, I now love because I researched it until I understood it. Therefore, my message to you is the same as it is to myself everyday, never stop learning and growing and evolving as a human. In a few days, weeks, months and years you will see that you have become the human you have always wanted to be. Manifestation works if you practice it daily and allow yourself patience and time to learn. Everything is a learned behaviour. So get out there and explore today!

man snorkelling in Hawaii by coral in the ocean with fish wearing flippers
Joel snorkelling in Hawaii in May 2019. All photos on the website are by Madison Pilling, unless otherwise stated.

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